Clay work is like the cinderella of the art therapies
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Clay work is like the cinderella of the art therapies Document Transcript

  • 1. “Clay work is like the Cinderella of the art therapies. She still waits to be discoveredwith her magic, her beauty and her ability to transform the wells of human sufferinginto places of insight and celebration. Her dark earthly solid mass, often appearing ingreyish, brownish or terracotta dress, is hardly alluring at first sight. Touching thissticky cold mass, you sense she has a longing and determination to merge with yourskin.” (Sherwood, 2010)Children have always played with clay however more recently it has become avaluable tool for play therapists as it provides children with a natural method ofconnection and expression. This research project is going to examine the therapeuticbenefits of using clay in play therapy. The reason I choose this particular topic toresearch is because when I started play therapy with my clients I did not include clayin my tool kit. After a few months, clay was introduced into the play room and it wasvery apparent to me from the outset that my clients were instantly drawn to it. Theyall used the clay but interestingly they used it in very different ways. Its manyqualities such as its strength, malleability and its concreteness make it very responsiveto human feelings. My clients liked feeling, modelling, squashing, rolling andpounding the clay. I felt undoubtedly it was instrumental in moving the clientsforward in their therapeutic process. Children are naturally attracted to clay and aredrawn to its visual appeal (Henley, 2002). It is a strong expressive medium and isideal for enhancing children’s development and holistic learning (White, 2006). Thisresearch project will attempt to give some insight into what the therapeutic benefitsare of using clay in a play therapy setting. I will do this by examining relevantliterature on the subject and by using some of my own personal experiences dealingwith clay as a play therapist.Landreth (2002) states that it is difficult for children to access their feelings at averbal level as children do not have the cognitive or verbal ability to express whatthey are feeling in a manner that can be expressed into words. Since the inception ofplay therapy, clay has always been an important tool for therapist (Axline, 1947;Landreth, 2002). It is advocated by many psychotherapists as one of the primarydevices for helping clients to explore difficult concepts and express fundamentalemotions in a non verbal manner (Freud 2006). However, while many therapists’advocates the inclusion of clay in the therapy room and recognise its therapeutic
  • 2. potential. Goryl’s (as cited in Sherwood 2010) survey showed only 25% of therapistsused clay in their practice while in contrast 99% believed that clay was verytherapeutic. There has not being much research done on the therapeutic aspects ofclay or clay as a therapeutic medium in general (Sherwood, 2010, Gavron and Sholt,2006, Souter-Anderson, 2010). The dearth of research and books on the subject maybe a result of the belief that clay therapy comes under the umbrella of art therapy.Souter- Anderson (2010) in her book “Touching Clay, Touching What?” refutes thisand claims clay therapy has a “unique theoretical anchoring in the same way thatsandplay, music therapy and authentic movement have their respective theoreticalbases” (Souter-Anderson, 2010: 13).In order to explore the therapeutic aspects of clay it is important to briefly describethe role clay has played in history. Clay products such as vases, pots, symbolic figureshave been present in past civilizations. In addition to the functional aspects of clay increating a variety of containing tools, it has been used in many cultures as a method ofexpressing the religious dimensions in human life. Clay originates from the earth andas the earth is viewed as the source of all things it can be inferred that clay can anchorvery powerful emotions. Sholt and Gavron (2006: 66) claim there is a link “betweensymbolic clay products and mental spiritual realm of human kind early in humanhistory. Accordingly, clay figures which are made of earth may reflect the connectionbetween the human mental world and the material world"Clay involves a very primal mode of expression and communication as it involvestouching (Henley, 2002). Tactile contact is actually the first mode of communicationthat a baby learns (Bowlby, 1969). It is the sense of touch that enables people tounderstand the very boundaries of themselves (Sunderland, 2004). Touch, before allelse, is the primary, non-verbal way a child has to relating to its mother. From themoment of birth, touch is the way in which feelings are communicated andexperienced. The sense of touch is closely linked to early attachment. (Bowlby, 1969).Attachment is the bond that develops between a baby and its primary caregiver. It ischaracterised by the interaction patterns which develop in order to fulfil the infantsneeds and emotional development (Bowlby, 1969). According to Bowlby (1969) notdeveloping a secure attachment in early life, could prove damaging to the childemotionally and these difficulties could filter through to adult life. Souter-Anderson
  • 3. (2010) states that many therapists see their clients’ relationship with clay as ametaphor for their attachments with different people in their lives. Cattanach(1996:196) states that the medium of clay have its own specific qualities and says “itresponds and reacts and has to be grappled with, in the same way as a humanrelationship does if it is to progress”. Baring this in mind it could be concluded usingclay in the playroom could help children or adults not only to explore their earlyattachment bonds but also help them examine and look at their current relationships.Clay leaves an imprint and feelings move through hands into clay making theinvisible visible. In addition to touch, modelling clay requires body movement. Touchand movement are interlinked. Real past memories and the "central window to theunconscious" can be unlocked through touch and movement (Oaklander, 1988). Claytherapy can allow the clients see their inner trauma and places of wounding(Sherwood, 2010). Nez (1991) made use of clay in order to facilitate healing withadults who had difficult and traumatic childhoods. He found that clay encouraged amore spontaneous and less controlled expression and response then other artmediums. He stated that using clay put the client in touch with primitive sensationsand emotion.Clay is cathartic in nature as it allows the child to express an array of emotions.Catharsis allows for the release of previously restrained and interrupted affectiverelease via emotional expression such as pounding clay (Schaffer, 2006). Whenchildren feel stuck, frustrated and overwhelmed by life challenges, the use of clay intherapy provides a safe place for releasing stored up thoughts and emotions, andunlearning old, destructive or unproductive habits. Some children find thisparticularly soothing and it can be useful for releasing tension or can be safe outlet forfrustration and aggression (Hart, 1992 as cited in Sholt & Gavron, 2006). Sholt andGavron (2006:67) states that working with clay could " function as a control windowto these unconscious non verbal representations and maybe helpful with people whofind it hard to express themselves verbally or who are defensive.Clay is malleable and three dimensional and it can become anything a child wants itto become. It can embody a representational form or an abstract one, for example achild could create a shape that represents a monster which could look like an animal
  • 4. or a fantasy figure or it just might be a shape that maybe symbolic. Once form hasemerged from the clay, it may become fixed and permanent, or be crushed and rolledback up into a ball. Creating different forms can help a child find a way of expressingtheir inner emotions and thoughts.Souter-Anderson (2010) states that clay is particularly useful when exploring feelingsof anger. It can also act as an outlet to prevent the build up of negative emotions andfeelings in the child. Macks (1990) as cited in Henley (2002) talks about a client whodug her nails into the clay over and over again. He says that in order for “thetherapeutic process to progress than all suppressed or imploded anger must first beimploded” (Sherwood, 2010:72). I found this to be very true in my experience ofworking with a nine year old boy. He was referred to play therapy as he had somedifficulties mixing with other children in the school. He became very aggressive andanger at times and the school were concerned. His mother said he appeared sad a lotof the time. He was an only child who lived alone with his mother. His parents wereyoung when he was born and his father is drug addict. His father has been in and outof prison due to his drug addiction. He does see his father but it is very irregularly andhe has come to see him as an acquaintance rather than a father. He used to just comeinto the room and throw the clay at the board. I noticed he did this when he wasannoyed or angry about something not necessarily his father but something that hadhappen in school or if he was anger with his mother or teachers. He eventually madeit into a game. He drew a circle on the board and the nearer he threw the clay to thecentre of the circle the more points he received. Sherwood (2010:105) states in herbook is a particularly good way “for the release of anger since it splats on the board.The release is dramatic”.Clay being an earthy medium by its very nature can take a lot of anger and rage. Clayin therapy provides a medium to work through issues such as anger, grief, and fearand move the client on in their therapeutic process. Another client used the clay torepresent lot of different emotions. The client was a ten year old girl that lived withher mother, her brother and half sister in a disadvantaged area in the city. Her parentshad separated two years previously and at the time the sessions commenced she washaving difficulty accepting the situation. Her father and his new girlfriend had a babyand he moved in with her and created a new family unit. She did not consider herself
  • 5. to be part of this new family and over the course of the sessions she became moreisolated from her father and felt abandoned by him. She had difficulty using any ofthe tool kit but when the clay was introduced she used to throw at the board and thewalls. She used feel energised and it would improve her mood. Interestingly, in thelatter phrase of her play therapy she began to make smiley faces. On one occasion sheused the clay to do this. This client found it very difficult to talk about her realfeelings so I felt the clay gave her an outlet to express them in a non verbal way.Photo1.1Self esteemWorking with clay can be rewarding for children who are hesitant about theircreativity. You need very little skill to use clay and so there is hardly any chance offailure (Henley, 2002). The play therapy is non directive and as the play therapist doesnot enforce any expectations or boundaries on the client, he can express himself freelyin a confident matter and with out restraint. Additionally the important aspect of usingclay which is often ignored in play therapy as we focus on the process rather than theproduct is the way it enables children to produce lasting pieces. This permanency ofcreation promotes a child’s self-esteem and when functional pieces are produced (e.g.cups, bowls) children see themselves as capable of engaging in a truly purposefulactivity (White as cited in Schaffer, 2006).I had this experience with one of my clients. This specific client had abandonmentissues and was suffering from low self esteem. In the early sessions, she preferred totalk but in one session she choose to work with the clay. She made a SpongeBob outof the clay and she wanted to take it home however this conflicted with theboundaries we had set out for the play therapy sessions. She had agreed to leaveeverything in the playroom until her therapy was finished. However, this seemed very
  • 6. important to her and up to this point she hadnt asked to take any thing else out of theroom so I spoke to my supervisor who told me get her to make another one that shecould specifically show her mother and her friends. The next session we createdanother SpongeBob (see photo below) in the room and she took it away.Photo 1.2The next week she told me how great her friends and mother thought it was. She wasextremely pleased with herself. The fact is clay can give children the material to makesomething out of nothing. They can put their own imprint on clay and therefore theybring something from the unconscious to the conscious (Heimlich and Mark, 1990 ascited in Sholt and Gavron, 2006). Clay products are tangible and can be examined at alater stage and the importance of this was evident in the case of my client. She used tolook and admire her clay creations every week. Play provides children with unlimitedopportunities to create, through the construction of clay, whereby they gain a sense ofconfidence and self efficacy that boasts their self esteem (Schaefer 2006). Oaklander(1988) also advocates projective techniques such as clay sculpting which she claims isvery useful to facilitate children and help them explore negative self image andincrease self acceptance and self esteem. I found from my own clients that using claycan be a satisfying experience that enables a child who can be hesitant about theircreativity be creative.
  • 7. Group workFor many years clay have been used by psychotherapists and art therapist. As clay hasbeen advocated by therapist as something that advances the therapeutic process in notonly in individual but also group therapies (Anderson, 1995; Mattes and Robbins,1981 as cited in Sholt and Gavron, 2006). Using clay can also be a very socialactivity. When appropriate, groups of children with similar presenting concerns areencouraged to interact together verbal communication skills, confidence and socialskills are developed and promoted. Children will often exchange ideas andsuggestions on how something can be made, and being able to show another childhow to make something can be particularly rewarding (White, 2006). Co-operationand sharing of ideas in groups promotes a sense of identity and a sense of belonging.In a study carried out by Sweeney and Thomas as cited in Souter-Anderson (2010)focusing on the issue of transition, clay was the second most popular medium used.Sand tray work was the first. I found this very apparent in a group of four girls whowere aged eleven I had for group play therapy. The overall aim of the therapy was toenable the clients to become more confident, more self assured and to have a morepositive image about themselves. One of the girls had difficulty in each session tryingto decide what to do. The others in the group would just ignore her but one of theweeks we were using clay the other girls gave her ideas on what she could make. Shefelt supportive and gave the strength to finish her clay model. She made a face – seephoto below.Photo 1.3Up to this point she had never completed anything. After she had completed hermodel with their direction, they as a group decided without being asked they decidedto make a clay model together. They decided to make a plaque and decorate it withglitter and stars. The girl who could never complete anything to that point became
  • 8. very much involved and suggested that they are put their initials on the plaque (seephoto below).Photo 1.4The group had been quite separate up to the session we used the clay and I felt it wasdefinitely instrumental in the bond in the group becoming closer and for moving themforward in the therapy. The client who found it difficult to decide what to do everyweek became much more confident and uninhibited when working with the clay. Sheput the clay all over her face (see photo below). She was enjoying the freedom ofusing the clay with no pressure to get it right or produce a perfect model.Photo 1.5Another interesting observation I made was when one of the girls in the group madean ashtray for her father she spoke to the group of how she was very worried hewould die if he didn’t stop smoking. These revelations led to another member of thegroup opening up about her fears for her mother who also smokes see photo below itis the clay model at the front.
  • 9. Photo 1.6Sherwood (2010) says using clay in groups is very productive in promptingdiscussions about feelings and relationships and I felt this was certainly true with thisparticular group I had.Using clay as a metaphorUsing clay to create metaphorical meaning can directly progress a client’s therapy. Asmentioned earlier clay allows a client to access to their unconscious. If a client can tapinto their unconscious they can begin to face the underlying cause of their difficulties.Winner (1998) as cited in Henley (2002) says that metaphors are a more effective wayof capturing meaning than talking. The use of metaphors allows for the exploration ofclient’s social and emotional difficulties without having to confront the issues directlyor resort to negative criticism (Henley, 2002) by creating symbolic equivalents totheir thoughts feelings and behaviours. Working with metaphor as a means ofproblem solving is an enjoyable and fun way of confronting serious issues. The photobelow shows one of my client’s clay representations of how he sees his mother. Hesees as her as a snake. It wasn’t a negative thing as the snake can represent protectionand transformation. Photo 1.7
  • 10. Henley (2002) states the in order to use clay as a suitable therapeutic medium it isimportant that the child has some ability in to think abstractly. Thus he believes thatusing this medium is most suitable for children over the age 6. He believes thatyounger children may enjoy using the clay they would not necessary to benefit from ittherapeutically.Summary of findingsThis research project attempted to explore some of the therapeutic benefits of usingclay in play therapy. I have discovered that it undoubtedly helps a play therapy clientexpress their emotions and this is due to the tactile nature of the clay. It is this modeof primal communication (touching) that helps emotions such as anger, greed, andgrief be expressed in the clay. Using clay therapeutically allows you to grab anemotion and look at it in the face, touch it, shape it and feel it. It makes the intangibletouchable. From my research and my own personal experience I have concluded thatclay is extremely cathartic as clients have a strong emotional experience working withthe clay. Due it is to its ability to be three dimensional, it can represent real lifeobjects. It can lead to regression and according to Henley (2002) regression thatoccurs through clay work leads to a cathartic release. It is powerful and penetratingand it enables an enormous release and transformation without the client having totalk about what is going on. However the use of clay can tap into the unconsciousmind and a therapeutic conversation about the visible product with the client canunlock the hidden memories. I have also seen how clay can act as a catalyst inencouraging group interaction and it helps with self esteem and self confidence. Italso helps clients develop their social skills and helps the group members to supportone another. It also can be instrumental in developing empathy. I feel that clay workthat is symbolic or metaphoric can facilitate verbal communication and encouragepeople to speak about matters they wouldn’t have normally disclosed. Additionally Ithink because of need to focus on the clay when one manipulates clay can led toimproved concentration.RecommendationsFrom this research I have some recommendations for using clay in play therapy.
  • 11. • It is important to make clay more widely available in the play room. The use of this tool by more play therapists in a broader range of contexts and with a broader range of population groups like special needs is important. As mentioned in the project although 99% of counsellors believe clay has some therapeutic value only 25% of therapists make it available. • Clay can be used very effectively in group work to promote social skills and empathy. Be more directive ask the group to make a shape representing themselves, or how they felt this morning. By doing this you are promoting an interactive discussion within the group but remember never force someone to speak if they refuse to do so. • Therapists often feel under confident in terms of using clay (Souter-Anderson, 2010) which is probably one of the reason that it is absent from many therapists tool kits. I would recommend that therapists should spend time getting to know the medium and feel what is like working with it personally.In conclusion before I began this research essay I knew clay was very effective butthis essay has helped me realise how and why clay is such a powerful medium and itis an essential part of a play therapist’s tool kit. This research has helped me improvemy understanding of the therapeutic uses of clay and it undoubtedly informs myfuture practice as a play therapist. BibliographyAxline, V. (1947). Play Therapy: The inner dynamics of childhood. Cambridge: MA:Houghton Mifflin.Axline, V. (1969). Play Therapy. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • 12. Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss (vol. 1). Hammondsworth: Penguin.Cattanach, A. (1993). Process in Art Therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley Publications.Freud, S. (2006). The Interpretation of Dreams. London: Penguin Group.Henley, D. (1996). Clayworks in Art Therapy: Plying the Sacred Circle. London:Jessica Kingsley Publications.Landreth, G. (2002 ). Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship. New York:Routledge.Oaklander, V. (1978). Windows to Our Children. New York: The centre for GestaltDevelopment Inc.Schaffer, C. & Kadoun, H. (Eds) (2006)Contemporary Play Therapy. New York:Guildford Press.Sherwood, P. (2010). The Healing Art of Clay Therapy. Melbourne: Acer Press.Sholt, M. & Gavron, T. (2006). Therapeutic Qualities of Clay-work in Art Therapyand Psychotherapy: A Review. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art TherapyAssociation, 23 (2) pp.66-72. AATA, Inc.Souter-Anderson (2010) Touching Clay, Touching What? Dorset: Archive Publishing.Sunderland, M. (2003). Using Storytelling as a Therapeutic Tool with Children.Oxon: Speechmark Publishing Ltd.